As of writing this, in the middle of January, the wintery darkness in the northern hemisphere feels particularly thick, like it always does at this time of year. It soaks into you like snake venom, so that it is not that hard to imagine what it would feel like to be the human version of tangled headphones. It is rather fortunate that music can sort that out – but not just any type of music. It requires a specific brand of cold and desolate soundscapes – metal, of course – layered with the serene beauty of the northern lights dancing across the night sky. As luck would have it, the Swedish juggernaut of atmospheric sludge, CULT OF LUNA, are releasing their ninth full-length, “The Long Road North,” on February 11th, 2022, via Metal Blade. With the album’s beautiful ebb and flow of slow-burning, cold riff-maelstroms and darkly shaded, ambient plateaus, it is exactly the kind of music with which to take a cold, hard look into the abyss where you cannot be sure when the darkness takes off and the light begins. Once through the album, I feel tempted to claim it is the band’s most versatile and dynamic outing to date. These Swedes have never been strangers to cinematic depth in their sonic craft but this selection of nine new songs takes a plunge even deeper into the realm of highly evocative soundscapes that paint intriguing motion pictures upon the mind’s canvas.
CULT OF LUNA has become well-known for writing songs that clock in at over 8 minutes, yet still making every minute count. The album opener, “Cold Burn,” clocks at almost 10 minutes and it is quite a scenic journey through the polar night, soundtracked by the savage roars of singer Johannes Persson, tearing through the layers of post-metal guitars and the somewhat tribal beat of the drums. In terms of cinema, the song would be the perfect candidate to provide the soundtrack for the opening scene of the first Terminator movie, in which the machine elves, risen from the ashes of the nuclear holocaust, are waging a war on mankind. The post-rockish guitar motifs trigger fond memories of the band’s vintage style on albums such as “Salvation” (2004), whereas the cinematic brass samples drone away into the distance, as though implying something wicked would be coming this way shortly, in a manner more reminiscent of the band’s 2013 outing, “Vertikal.” In nothing short of spectacular way, the opening track sets the tone for the whole album – that of an epic mixture of something old and something new, nothing much borrowed but lots of something blue.
The relentless grind of the myriad post-metal riffs on the album is nicely balanced with a good number of soothing, ambient plateaus. In this respect, two particular tracks stand out. “Beyond I” is a stripped-down, 3-minute musical meditation, not far in style from the most introspective works of David Sylvian. The song features the internationally acclaimed Swedish vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Mariam Wallentin, on vocals. The album closer, “Beyond II,” traverses waist-deep in the cinematic side of ambient music, featuring Colin Stetson, who is best known for his soundtrack works, along with his collaborations with artists such as ARCADE FIRE, BON IVER, and Tom Waits.
Ahead of the album release, the band released the track, “Into the Night,” as a single. Upon first listening to it, I could have almost sworn that it was not a CULT OF LUNA composition but some rare, unreleased gem written by Mark Lanegan. Well, obviously, the half-whispered vocals do not entirely reach the same level of whiskey-induced gravitas, but nonetheless, the song does take you by a certain measure of surprise, which is only befitting as the lyrics are about being lost somewhere between the stages of being awake and asleep – seeing, hearing, and experiencing things and not knowing whether it’s real or just your imagination. Over the years, this Swedish metal bunch has incorporated all kinds of exciting elements in their music but so far, I can’t remember having heard them flirt this openly with the gritty type of rock vaudeville before.
Of the three +10-minute post-metal epics on the album, the most haunting is the track, “Blood Upon Stone.” It carries on the fine legacy of vintage CULT OF LUNA epics such as “Dark City, Dead Man,” ”Finland,” and ”Ghost Trail.” It is one of those songs that would certainly rise to the occasion as the choicest one to put on, say, while watching the northern lights dance across the vast canvas of the eternal night. The song, as well as the whole album, hits deep, raw, and intense. With the band’s code of conduct becoming more overwhelming with each new outing, no matter how many CULT OF LUNA albums I already own, I will always have the urge to buy more.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Cold Burn
- The Silver Arc
- Beyond I
- An Offering to the Wild
- Into the Night
- Full Moon
- The Long Road North
- Blood Upon Stone
- Beyond II
Johannes Persson – guitars, vocals
Andreas Johansson – bass
Thomas Hedlund – drums, percussion
Fredrik Kihlberg – guitars, vocals
Kristian Karlsson – keyboards, vocals
Magnus Lindberg – production
Metal Blade Records